Greetings From New Orleans, Y’all!
Grrr…bought a new laptop right before the trip and the blasted thing won’t let me upload any photos onto the blog…beyond frustrating! If you want to see some photos, you’ll have to go to the Travel With Balls Facebook page — but I probably won’t have any up until tomorrow….
It’s hard to know where to start…the first weekend of Jazz Fest was simply incredible. For those of you who haven’t been, the 7-day festival is spread out over two weekends — three days the first and four days the second — and is held at the race track/fairgrounds, which is a huge complex. Anchoring the two ends of the fairgrounds are mega-stages that can each accommodate 50,000 – 75,000 bodies pressed together. In between the two stages are dozens of food booths featuring every kind of food that is eaten in these parts — from alligator to oysters to crawfish to chicken livers to turkey wings to anything else that swims, walks or crawls; hundreds of booths selling crafts from all over Louisiana and abroad; a Congo Square stage that features acts from the African Diaspora (where Steel Pulse rocked the crowd on Friday); a blues tent; a gospel tent; a fais-do-do stage featuring Cajun and zydeco acts; a modern jazz tent; another jazz tent that features old time styles like Dixieland and ragtime; and a couple of other stages for performances by Mardi Gras Indians or folk groups. It’s a gumbo of arts and culture and is hands-down the best music festival in America (and quite possibly in the world…)
Where else could you see a 93-year-old Cajun fiddler bring down the house, a traditional second-line with high-steppers snaking through the fairgrounds in powder blue suits — twirling umbrellas and shaking their bodies to a brass band — Mardi Gras Indians adorned in their feathered splendor calling out their challenges and chants, Tom Petty rocking hard for two straight hours, Bruce Springsteen inviting Dr. John on stage to jam with the E Street Band and then powering through an impassioned 2 ½ hour set of hard-edged hits and heartfelt political pleas. Throw in young trombone prodigies (Trombone Shorty), blues shouters, pianists whose playing is so hot their hands melt the keys, gospel wailers and chanteuses and you begin to get the picture. Writing about the actual festival performances is hard because there were so many highlights that it would take pages to do it any kind of justice….Let’s just say that I was ALL up in ecstasy in the Blues Tent when James Andrews had us all second-lining to the theme song to the HBO show, “Treme,” when I was second-lining with the Family Ties Social & Pleasure Club to the irresistible “Miss Liza Jane” and during Springsteen’s entire performance. You could tell that The Boss is deeply moved by the folks in New Orleans who continue to try to rebuild their lives after the federal flood disaster of 2005 and he seemed moved to deliver his very best. (Plus, I’ll never forget the look on his face as he was playing with Dr. John — he looked like a boy on Christmas morning….)
And that’s just the official festival. On the days in between Jazz Fest, the Louisiana Music Factory, an independent cd store that is as narrow and long as a bowling lane and as hot and humid as a Southern swamp, features several sets of free music. Last Thursday we saw Glen David Andrews, an incredible trombone player and singer, wail and moan with such soul the walls threatened to come tumbling down. He was followed by bluesman Little Freddie King, who’s probably in his late 70s by now but who can still straddle his electric guitar and ride it across the stage like he’s on horseback. After Little Freddie came the Soul Rebels, a brass band that mixes jazz with heavy funk. Over the weekend Jazz Fest was in full swing so the LMF went silent but they started things back up today and we went to see Mischaya Lake & Tom McDermott. With all her tattoos and her pixieish body Lake looks like a circus performer but the girl can belt out old blues standards with the best of them and McDermott accompanies her and knows how to seriously tickle the ivories. But the absolute best was this afternoon’s set by blues/soul singer/pianist Jon Cleary. Originally from England, Cleary arrived in New Orleans decades ago for a few day visit and simply never left. Cleary performed at Jazz Fest on Saturday on one of the mega-stages before 35,000 or so fans and blew every last one of us away with his set of rollicking, funky rhythms…and today we got to stand less than ten feet from him and watch him handle the old upright piano in the store like he was a gang member marking his territory. I mean he ROLLED up down the octaves so hard that the hat he was wearing kept tipping from one side of his head to the other and his shirt was drenched in sweat. And then he signed our cds afterwards!
Really, I could go on and on for hours but I have to sign off for now because in a few minutes we’re heading back to the Louisiana Music Festival to hear Trombone Shorty (who rocked a crowd of 50,000 or so at Jazz Fest yesterday and brought out Dave Koz for a song, to boot…) and then we’re going to dinner at our favorite Creole restaurant, Olivier’s. From there we’ll head on over to Frenchmen Street to hit a couple of the clubs so we can soak in even more of the music.
Oh, one last thing for now —- we talked to several people about Travel With Balls and we’ve gained several new TWB friends on Facebook. Welcome to our TWB Jazz Fest Krewe members!
Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Peace & Blessings,